Time for Florida’s new student scholarships draws near

Lawmakers approved the two programs to begin during the 2018-19 school year.
[DIRK SHADD | Times]
[DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Sept. 21, 2018|Updated Sept. 21, 2018

It's six weeks into the 2018-19 school year, and Florida's two newest scholarship programs to help struggling readers and bullied children are about to become reality.

Florida lawmakers established the Reading Scholarship and the "Hope" Scholarship in the spring legislative session.

The former is a state-funded program aimed at third- and fourth-graders who scored Level 1 or 2 on the state language arts exam. The latter is tax-credit funded program to help children who claim they were bullied in public school transfer to either a different public school with paid transportation or to a private school with tuition assistance.

The state's scholarship funding organizations began accepting applications for the Reading Scholarships in August. About 2,700 students submitted documentation, which is under review by the Florida Department of Education to ensure eligibility.

The money — up to $500 per student to help pay for tutoring, instructional materials and other reading assistance — is expected to become available later in the fall.

Related coverage: New Florida scholarship aims to boost third-grade readers 

State law establishing the "Hope" Scholarships allows auto dealers to begin asking buyers if they'd like to contribute up to $105 from the sales tax of a new vehicle purchase on Oct. 1.

The scholarship funding organizations would be able to offer scholarships only after enough money collects to fund them. They are estimated to be valued around $7,000 per student.

So far, no organization has begun accepting applications. They are looking to kick off that system within a month.

The "Hope" Scholarships came under fire during the legislative session for several reasons, including that they support removing bullied children rather than bullies.

Another concern centered on the language that says students must claim to have been bullied, but do not have to provide any verification. The state Senate discussed adding that the claims but be substantiated, but backed away from that effort.

Some Florida Board of Education members suggested that wording could leave the program open to fraud or abuse. But they said they could not arbitrarily change the law when adopting rules for the scholarship program.

Supporters of the concept said their goal is to provide more choices for children who feel trapped. District leaders said they plan to keep track of the cases they see, to determine how the scholarship is being used.

Related coverage: Florida Board of Education adopts rules on scholarships for bullied students